May 29, 2013 6:52 PM by Cameron Polom, KSBY News

Fourteen under arrest after panga boat found in Montana De Oro State Park

Fourteen people are in custody tonight after the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office says they were attempting to smuggle drugs into the Central Coast.

Deputies patrolling the coastline spotted the suspects unloading a panga boat at Montana De Oro State Park.

According to Homeland Security, smugglers using panga boats attempt to land up and down the California coast at least twice a week and the majority are not apprehended; however, thanks to some sharp eyes and quick instincts, 14 people found themselves in handcuffs on Wednesday.

The Sheriff's Office says the 14 men caught with large quantities of drugs and cash near a remote trail at Montana De Oro early in the morning are facing federal drug smuggling charges.

"We noticed they were offloading some folks into the park. That's when we decided to keep surveillance on them," said San Luis Obispo Sheriff's Office spokesman Tony Cipolla.

Around six deputies watched the men begin to offload the drugs into at least four vehicles and initiated a traffic stop shortly after.

"Here's a little duffle bag that we assume they were transporting drugs in," said Cipolla as he walked the suspected smugglers' route.

"What you're seeing is just a lot of packaging material, a lot of debris," said Cipolla.

Most of the evidence is tagged and collected.

Police found water bottles and also hope to find fingerprints or DNA that may help link the suspects to the crime.

Police marked evidence along the trail including a switch blade. Police say they believe it was used to reduce the size of the packaged drugs on the panga boat, making them more manageable for the half-mile hike up to awaiting vehicles.

The amount of the drugs has not been released but according to Homeland Security, the average load is around 2,000 pounds, with a street value of $5,000,000.

Police continued to take photos and collect additional evidence from the boat throughout the day.

All 14 men were taken to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's station for processing. That's where Homeland Security will take it over and conduct their own interviews

» There are multiple updates to this story. Please click here to get the latest information.



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